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Doncaster Features: Famous Doncastrian: Dr Robert Storrs

It was originally believed that Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis was the first to recognise the importance of good hygiene to prevent the cross-contamination of patients, especially during childbirth. However, Dr Wainwright´s research published this month in Microbiologist shows that a Yorkshireman, Dr Robert Storrs, had the idea before Semmelweis, saving the lives of many mothers who may have otherwise have died.
Doncaster's famous Doctor, Robert Storrs
Dr Storrs practised in Sprotbrough, a small village neighbouring Doncaster. He was concerned with the huge number of women who were dying from childbed fever once they had given birth. According to the new research, Storrs realised that he was somehow spreading the disease between his patients and he began to alter his methods, making sure that he wore clean clothes for each patient and that his hands were always clean.

His new methods greatly reduced the number of cases of childbed fever, allowing more and more women to survive childbirth. Although most eminent physicians refuted the idea that they could be helping the spread of disease, Dr Storrs´ findings were reinforced by a number of local doctors throughout South and West Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Although he published his findings Storrs died, ironically from a fever in 1847, before his medical breakthroughs could be recognised. Despite this, his work had a lasting significance. Dr Milton Wainwright said: "Thanks to pioneers like Doncaster´s Dr Storrs we now know that good hygiene is vital and doctors and nurses in particular are encouraged to thoroughly wash their hands to prevent the spread of infection."

Storrs died largely unknown and unheralded on the fourteenth of September 1847. Like Semmelweis and many of the women he tried to help, Storrs died of fever and was buried in the churchyard of his birth, Sprotbrough. Unfortunately no image of him seems to exist, so we are left only with the inscription on his gravestone, which is simple, but very apt: "the memory of the just is blessed."

NOTE: The image is taken from a book published by John Tooth: Humane and heroic: the life and love of a 19th century country doctor (2007).

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